Let’s not be under any illusions but that Clare were expected to win that game last Saturday.
I do think without the red card, we would have ran out comfortable winners, but the game leaves more questions than answers for Clare management. These games are difficult experiences, because if you beat the underdog well; you were expected to. If you struggle, then negativity sets in. The main thing here was Clare won and now have an opportunity to right any mistakes in the next round.
The loss of the captain and leader, who had started the game well, leaves another big void in the team. How Laois were able to cut through our defence, without a glove being laid on them, is a bigger issue in my opinion. The ease at which Laois were able to move the ball in the middle third and create overlaps does not bode well with the opposition in mind for next week. There are a lot of questions and very little time for answers with the short turn around.
The one and only camera at the game did not shed light on the incident, but David McInerney was obviously baited and when you raise the hurley you are always asking questions of the referee. A lot of new referees are trying to make a name for themselves and it always drives me mad how they don’t use some common sense. Often an experienced ref will have a very different view on the same incident. To give a straight red card you have to be 100% sure the hurley was used with excessive force and use some common sense, especially in the year that’s in it.
Our defending left a lot to be desired at times. The funny thing was I could not single out one player at fault, it was more our collective unit that caused the difficulty. Far too often our defence was drawn to the man, leaving unmarked players in the danger zone. For the last goal, a Laois player ran from the 65m line to the 21m line nearly untouched. This is championship hurling and your defence can not be opened up that easily. The lack of a specialised full and centre back is causing us further problems, as the best in the game in these positions marshal their defence with effective communication playing a key element in this.
A team is only as good as the sum of its parts. You have to defend as a team and quite often you do not need to pick the best 15 hurlers in the county to achieve this. Players have to complement one another. I remember in 2013 when people asked who the most important players, the obvious answers were Tony, Podge, Bugs etc. However, the likes of Pat, Cian and Dunny always did their jobs and by God, could they defend. You earned everything you got off them in training and they knew their limitations. They would do their jobs without a fuss and without looking flash, but that’s what successful teams do. Clare need to find a way to defend next week as a unit. They will be helped by Wexford’s game plan but they will have to make the middle third a battle ground and stop Wexford’s running game at source. If Wexford get into Clare’s half creating over laps, it will spell danger.
On a positive note from last week, Tony Kelly was excellent again, Shane O’Donnell linked play and created a lot in the middle third. Aron Shanagher was a good target man but will need to convert all the chances he gets and will need a massive game against Liam Ryan, one of Wexford’s big leaders next week. When all around him was in chaos last week, at times Cathal Malone dragged Clare with him with two massive scores from the sideline in the third quarter. His work rate and direct running caused problems for Laois and opened up space for others also. Our running game worked well at times and the move for O’Donnell’s goal chance, in the first half, shows what we are capable of. We will need to take every one of these against Wexford, to have a chance. For all Seadhna might be missing defensively, he does offer a massive threat making incisive runs through the middle channels and linking play in transition. As a result, he will be a vital cog next Saturday, as Wexford will draw out their forward line.
All in all it is an exciting draw for the neutral with all the sub plots but I think it is the best draw for Clare, in their current situation. It is a game which surely deserves better than the one camera lackluster production from GAAGO. GAA is a welcome distraction to a lot of people and it should not be dependent on your internet connection to watch them in the current climate.
We have a lot of improving to do but the lack of a conventional forward line from Wexford may help us to defend better as a unit. We will need the middle third to be a battle ground with Aron and a suitable foil inside, causing chaos and pinning Wexford back.
Davy and Bugs will be plotting Clare’s downfall this week. It does not make them any less Clare men, but I hope they don’t succeed.